PARIS, Nov 26 — French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told UK counterpart Priti Patel on Friday he was scrapping planned weekend talks with her, in protest at a letter made public by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the migrant crisis.
In a message seen by AFP, Darmanin told Patel the letter from Johnson to President Emmanuel Macron suggesting France takes back migrants who cross the Channel was a “disappointment.”
Referring to Johnson’s posting of the letter on social media, he added: “Making it public made it even worse. I therefore need to cancel our meeting in Calais on Sunday.”
France was planning to host ministers from all Channel littoral states, including Patel, for a crunch meeting on the migrant crisis in Calais on Sunday, after 27 migrants lost their lives this week off the French coast in the deadliest such disaster.
A source close to Darmanin told AFP that the meeting would be going ahead with the ministers from other European countries but added Patel was no longer invited after Johnson’s “unacceptable” letter.
“We consider the British Prime Minister’s public letter to be unacceptable and contrary to the discussions we had with our counterparts,” said the source, who asked not to be named.
“Therefore, Priti Patel is no longer invited to the interministerial meeting on Sunday, which is maintained in the format of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and the European Commission.”
Johnson wrote to Macron on Thursday asking France to immediately start taking back all migrants who land in England after crossing the Channel and, in an unusual step, posted the entire text of the letter on Twitter.
Taking back migrants “would significantly reduce — if not stop — the crossings, saving thousands of lives by fundamentally breaking the business model of the criminal gangs” behind the trafficking, he said.
Johnson’s letter also set out areas for greater cooperation with France, proposing joint border patrols, aerial surveillance and intelligence sharing.
The new row adds to a litany of post-Brexit problems between Britain and France, with French fishermen on Friday due to stage a blockade of Channel ferry ports and stop freight entering the Channel Tunnel in protest at fishing rights. — AFP